Sunday, October 3, 2010

Flying and the Microwave

You never know where or when a thought will strike.  It’s amazing what thing you may notice that will transport you to a train of thought traveling to a place you thought your mind couldn’t go.

I spent some time in England this summer.  I had never been before and was amazed by the differences between the U.K. and us “Colonies” (as they refer to us).  I was there for 2 months and I had an apartment on the 5th floor right in the middle of a small town in the Cotswold’s.  

During my downtime, I would spend hours just looking out the window.  I was fascinated by the life there.  I’m a people-watcher anyway so the multitudes of different characters that passed by the building really interested me.  I tried to take in everything from the architecture to the sunsets.

One thing that caught my attention and the first focus of this little rant were pigeons.  Now, that may not sound too interesting.  They’re just pigeons right?  Well, yes, but I don’t come from an area where I saw pigeons very regularly.  So, the birds in the air were sometimes just as interesting as the people down below.  The birds where I come from are more colorful, but small.  They tweet and sing.  Pigeons, on the other hand, are big gray and white birds that coo and purr almost non-stop.  They also have little fear of people.  I discovered this by leaving my window open and a little curious bugger hopped in with no shame.

One day at sunset, I was watching the pigeons fly around the building. From 5 floors up, it was a unique perspective.  I wouldn’t say that pigeons sore like eagles, but they can go a pretty good distance with little effort and do so very quickly.  This is where I hopped on board one of those trains of thought.

As I watched the pigeon fly, I began thinking about flight in general.  If you really think about it, flight is pretty amazing.  We are stuck here on the ground.  The ability to just lift off the ground escapes humans, yet birds, even those that are very small can do so via pure instinct.  Of course, when you think about flight, it reminds you of airplanes and how we are able to attach wings onto a tube and throttle it into the air at hundreds and hundreds of miles per hour.

The next stop on my mental journey was how did we ever invent a machine that can defy the gravity that holds us onto the earth?  The answer was simple…birds.  Think about it.  If there were no birds or other flying creatures for that matter, I don’t believe there would be an airplane.  Most ideas come from some sort of inspiration which is really just a loose form of copying.  There are very few thoughts that just drop out of the air (so to speak).  If not for birds, I don’t believe that Man, in his glued to the earth state, would have ever thought flight could exist let alone be possible.

OK. Fast-forward a few months. (For those that don’t remember what “fast-forward” is…it’s when you had to spin a VHS tape real fast to skip the previews.)  I’m sitting in a hotel room on a visit to St. Louis.  I’ve just returned from lunch and a little shopping.  I have an oatmeal cookie (with raisins and nuts…mmm) that I saved from lunch.    I decide to warm the cookie in the microwave (because the only better than an oatmeal cookie with raisins and nuts is a warm oatmeal cookie with raisins and nuts).

As I’m eating my cookie and sipping the accompanying coffee, my choochoo of thought is again hijacked.  This time, I start thinking about the microwave.  I know. I know.  First it was birds, now 
the microwave.  You must think I have little to worry about, but bear with me.

Have you ever heard how the idea that “micro waves” that can heat things like food was discovered?  By accident.  You can google the man and the event, but essentially a scientist was experimenting with microwaves for a different purpose when he noticed the sandwich he had been eating had gotten hot with no apparent heat source available.  A little bit of scientific method later and we have microwaves. This gets me thinking about how many things are discovered by accident.  Or are they?

The things that we discover about our world on accident, are they really accidents? Or are we meant to discover these things?

So, how does all this fit together? Flying and microwaves?  What kind of crack am I on?  I’ll tell you.

When these two trains of thought came together in my mind, the ensuing collision catapulted me onto another train:  Man has not created anything new. Everything that we have invented has come from the Earth.   We’ve just learned new ways to use what is before us.  From the inventions we use everyday like microwaves and airplanes to the most advanced supercomputers and space shuttles; nothing is new under the sun.  It’s just assembled in a new way.

I believe we were meant to discover these things.  I believe we were given an intellect and a curious nature to discover how the physics of our environment can be used to do some very complex, yet useful stuff.  Going all the way back to the invention of fire, we have been observing and taking what is around us and working it into something inventive and helpful.  I believe that it is no coincidence that all these things work together to create something that is greater than the sum of their parts.  I also believe these planned discoveries are meant to do more than just help us heat a cookie in 10 seconds.  I believe they are meant to reveal something to us about how they got here or rather “who” put them here.

So, the next time you nuke a cookie, board a plane, or light your fireplace, take a moment to consider how all of that came to be.  See where your train takes you.